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Interview With Dan Rivers

Aired July 15, 2003 - 19:37   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: She's a 12-year-old British schoolgirl. He's a 31-year-old ex-Marine from Michigan, who may have thought she was 19 and in college. British police are trying to find both Shevaun Pennington and Toby Studabaker right now.
Authorities say the pair met in an online chat room, ran off to Paris last weekend. Now, in a new development, Studabaker contacted his family and the FBI to say the girl is OK, this according to his brother.

Jim Boulden has more on the story.


JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The curtains were drawn at the Pennington house outside Manchester, England, Tuesday. The family of missing 12-year-old Shevaun chose to keep quiet a day after pleading for help to find their daughter.

British police say the schoolgirl ran off Saturday with 31-year- old ex-U.S. Marine Toby Studabaker. Then word came late Tuesday, a tip from France that the girl may have flown back to Liverpool over the weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have been told, informed that Interpol that an S. Pennington did leave Charles de Gaulle Airport at approximately quarter to 11:00 on Saturday evening. However, I'm very, very dubious as to whether that is our Shevaun Pennington, as that S. Pennington was part of a group, part of a group of five persons, and it was a prebooked flight for all five.

BOULDEN: Schoolgirl Pennington and Studabaker took a flight from London's Heathrow Saturday, bound for Paris. And there, the trail ran cold. Studabaker's family in Michigan says he went to Europe to be with a 19-year-old college student who he met in an Internet chat room.

LEO STUDABAKER, TOBY STUDABAKER'S BROTHER: He thought they were getting serious, and he wanted to go over and find out exactly what her feelings were and see what she wanted to do, continue the relationship forward, or just back it off.

BOULDEN: Late Tuesday, the Studabaker family said Toby called them and the FBI to say he was no longer with Shevaun and that she had signed a letter to say she was not harmed by him. STUDABAKER: I honestly do believe he honestly thought she was 19. Like I said, he wouldn't give any details, but I can imagine that -- He did say that he'd saw the news, probably her as well, and she had finally told him how old she was. And he was pretty upset about it after he found out.

BOULDEN (on camera): British police say that Studabaker does not have a criminal record, but that he should have known all along that he was not with a 19-year-old college student, but instead with a 12- year-old schoolgirl.

Jim Boulden, CNN, Lea (ph), England.


COOPER: It's just a bizarre case. Studabaker's family, as you just saw, says he was upset when he found out how old his online companion really was, but he did not, however, tell them where he or 12-year-old Shevaun Pennington are right now. That would seem to be the most important thing.

The search and the story about the couple, big news in Europe as it is here. ITN correspondent Dan Rivers joins me right now from London.

Dan, this is obviously just a bizarre story. I know it's being closely followed over there. What is the latest as far as you've heard?

DAN RIVERS, ITN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as far as we've heard, we've heard from the family, as you say, the Studabaker family, who said that they've had this one call from Toby Studabaker saying that Shevaun, importantly, is safe, hasn't been harmed, that he hasn't laid a finger on her, and that he wants to give himself up, give himself up to the authorities.

But at the moment, we still don't know where they are. We haven't heard anything from Shevaun herself. Her family haven't heard anything from her. And this case has really been dominating the news over here. It's front-page news on all of the newspapers here and all of the news bulletins, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

COOPER: And there was, there was confusion, because French officials for a time were saying, Well, someone with the last name Pennington boarded a flight to go back to England, they showed the manifest. But that has now basically been ruled out, is that correct?

RIVERS: It seems like it was just a bizarre coincidence, actually. Yes, they say earlier this morning, the French authorities said an s. Pennington flew back from Paris to Liverpool on Saturday night. Everyone's hopes were raised that perhaps Shevaun had traveled back to England. But in fact, it turned out this was another S. Pennington, completely separate from the case, just a bizarre coincidence.

And since then, really, the trail has gone cold here in Europe. But there has been quite a lot of criticism over here about the way the French authorities are investigating this case, a feeling that they're not really taking this forward as quickly as they might or giving this case enough importance.

Over here, as I say, it's front-page news and is dominating the news media in France. There doesn't seem to be very much awareness of it at all, that there are no wanted posters up, it doesn't seem to be in the media, there's no high profile to this case being given by the French police.

COOPER: Dan, the thing I don't understand about this is that -- and correct me, whatever I'm getting wrong here -- my understanding is that they met in England and then traveled together to France. Do you know long they were together in England? Because I can't get my head around why he couldn't figure out that this was a 12-year-old girl earlier on, if that is, in fact, the case.

RIVERS: I mean, it does seem bizarre. She does look older than her years, Shevaun Pennington, but nevertheless, as you say, they spent, what, about five hours together in England before they then flew on to Heathrow and then on to Paris.

So you would think that he would have had plenty of opportunity in those few hours that they spent, first of all in Manchester and then in London, to talk and find out that, in fact, she wasn't a 19- year-old college girl, she was 12-year-old schoolgirl, and that taking her abroad like this was completely unacceptable.

COOPER: All right. Well, Dan Rivers, appreciate you joining us, trying to add your perspective to it. As we said, it's just a bizarre case. I know you've been following it closely. Appreciate the update. Thank you.


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